The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in conversation in 2008 at the University of Washington in Seattle. File picture: Ted Warren

Cape Town - South Africa was creating the impression that its foreign policy could be dictated from China after the Dalai Lama visa debacle, Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams told Weekend Argus.

Williams and fellow peace prize laureates Shirin Ebadi and Leymah Gbowee said they would boycott the upcoming World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Cape Town following the visa controversy.

Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her contribution to the international campaign to ban and clear anti-personnel mines, said two further laureates – Tawakkol Karman from Yemen and Mairead Maguire – told her this week they would boycott the event in solidarity with the Dalai Lama.

“By going I honestly feel I would be aligning myself with the decision of South Africa to walk hand in hand with China, as do the other laureates. And that is just a non-starter,” Williams said from the US.

“China prides itself on the non-interference in the internal politics of other countries. But I guess that this includes everything except if the Dalai Lama is going to visit your country.”

The Department of International Relations and Co-operation has denied it refused the Tibetan spiritual leader a visa, saying the country’s high commission in New Delhi had been processing it when the Dalai Lama cancelled his application.

The 14th Dalai Lama has lived in exile in the Indian city of Dharamshala since fleeing Tibet in 1959.

But the Dalai Lama’s representative, Nangsa Choedon, has given a different version of events, telling the Cape Times earlier this month that a South African official had phoned her to say the visa would not be granted. This is the third time in five years that the Dalai Lama has tried, and failed, to obtain a visa to visit South Africa.

The website of the Nobel summit lists four confirmed Nobel prize laureates: former president FW de Klerk, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former Polish president Lech Walesa and David Trimble, former leader of Northern Ireland’s Ulster Unionist Party.

This is down from 13 laureates who had been expected to attend before the controversy.

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, meanwhile, said this week the summit would go ahead as planned, adding that Tutu and De Klerk had written to invitees encouraging them to attend.

She said this would “send a message that the South African government’s appalling treatment of the Dalai Lama will not go unchallenged”.

But Williams said attending the summit could not but be understood as a tacit endorsement of the fact that the Dalai Lama would be absent.

“This is supposedly a celebration of Mandela. I did not have the opportunity to know him, but I find it hard to imagine he would feel like celebrating the fact that South Africa has sold its conscience and soul to China, and that China publicly congratulated South Africa for its, quote unquote, ‘correct position’ in supporting Chinese sovereignty.”

She was referring to a statement made by the Chinese foreign ministry on September 5, the day after reports surfaced that the Dalai Lama’s visa had been cancelled.

“China highly commends the firm support that the government of South Africa has shown to China on issues regarding China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” spokesman Qin Ganghe said in a press release.

For Williams, China’s attempt to curb international visits by the Dalai Lama was in turn interference in the affairs of foreign countries.

“What about South African sovereignty?” she asked.

“They are willing to give up their own sovereignty to appease China because it is their biggest trading partner.”

The South African government has in the past brushed aside such statements, saying in 2011 after the Dalai Lama tried and failed to gain a visa that this country’s foreign policy was “independent, and decisions are made based on our domestic interests”.

Williams said soon after Cape Town was named host of this year’s summit, women Nobel prize winners had planned to boycott the event if the Dalai Lama was refused a visa. “All the women supported this position,” she said.

Weekend Argus